The arrival of the Albanians in Italy coincides with two very serious historical events for the Church of Rome:
– The schism of the East with the Orthodox Church of Constantinople (sec. XI);
– The Western schism with the German Church (sec. XVI), headed by the Augustinian monk Martin Luther.
The historical-social panorama between East and West, at the arrival of the Albanians in Italy – after the mid-fifteenth century – is full of contrasting situations. If Western Europe opens its doors to the Renaissance, one of the richest moments of cultural ferment in which all arts, science and philosophy, find their highest expression and realization, Eastern Europe is constantly threatened by Turkish invasions and any effort to avoid them will be useless because aid from the West will be lacking, because of the schism of 1054, so the city of Constantinople itself will be forced to capitulate in 1453.
Albania also suffers threats from the Ottoman hordes, but thanks to one of the great heroes that history remembers, George Kastriota Skanderbeg, defender of faith and freedom, the Turkish invasion is averted for about twenty-four years. But with his death, Albania will enter a slow agony until the Turks will definitively install it with all their ferocity, fueled by years of hatred towards the Albanian hero. Several families will leave the land of Albania to reach the Venetian coast, but especially Calabria where they will be welcomed as guests, thanks to the ancient friendship between Skanderbeg and the kings of Naples, the House of Aragon. The separation from their homeland will be painful for families, who have had to abandon everything. But all that has been lost at home will be repaid by the rich spiritual and cultural heritage that the Albanians will bring to Italy: the faith of the Fathers, the ancient language of the Pelasgians, the Byzantine rite, the traditions, the songs. Thus began the Albanian diaspora, “gjaku yne i shprishur” (our lost blood), the long and troubled emigration (from 1468 to 1744) that will take the Albanians to various European States, without ever forgetting the ancient ethnic root and belonging to the Orthodox Church. The Albanians, landed in Calabria, will find a land worn out by the political struggles between Aragonese and Angevins, the greed of the feudal barons, the frequent earthquakes, in particular that of 1456, recorded on the eve of their arrival, which will claim thousands of victims. It is one of the periods of Calabrian history of strong civil and economic decline. The social integration of Albanian refugees, if on the one hand it will lead to a new demographic expansion, after the depopulation caused by the earthquake of 1456, on the other it will create distrust and misunderstanding with the inhabitants of the place, who do not understand the language, the rite, the modus vivendi of these people from afar. The feudal and ecclesiastical barons will exploit the misery of the Albanians by inserting them in the most humble jobs and controlling them on sight, because they are considered “bizarre and crude” because of their “magical rites”. The clergy will hinder them more, because of the schism of the East of 1054; the Albanians, in fact, to their coming still belonged to the Orthodox Church of Albania, considered therefore heretics, ie separated from Rome.
These are difficult times for the Albanians. No one understands the richness of their spiritual patrimony, nor imagines that they will be natural continuators- as a providential sign- of the Byzantine Tradition which, by the end of the 15th century, is now moving towards its final parable.As the Albanians become part of the new social life, they begin to build their churches for liturgical functions with an architectural imprint that has little of Byzantine; the Latin clergy, in fact, tries in every way to forget the Eastern Tradition, often by force, and to inculcate to them an increasingly Latinized identity. But the Albanians, will play their survival on three elements: language, ritual and folk songs, in which they will express the national conscience. They will live, for the continuous misunderstandings with the local Latin clergy, until the beginning of the twentieth century, a spiritual and cultural alienation, subjected, as they were, to the ordinary jurisdiction of the Latin bishops who, for their ignorance in matters of rites, will create various abuses against them.
The historical and spiritual presence of the Albanians in Italy will not be destroyed, however, by the Latin hegemonic reality. It will involve the Holy See which, thanks to the interest of some popes, will support with various documents the survival of the spiritual identity of the Italian-Albanian Church. In fact, the pontiffs of Rome will be interested in the serious conditions of Albanian refugees, since their arrival in Italy and allow the survival of their rite. From Pius IV to Gregory XIV, from Leo X to Paul III, most of the administrative documents of the sixteenth century came out, as a testimony to the papal interventions for the defense of the Byzantine rite. It will be the twentieth century has marked the historical turning point for the Italo-Albanian community of Byzantine rite. On 13 February 1919, with the constitution “Catholici fideles”, of Pope Benedict XV, the Eparchy of Lungro was canonically constituted.
With the constitution of the Eparchy, the Holy See not only, therefore, definitively resolves a thorny chapter that lasted about five centuries, but becomes an official guarantor for the survival of the Byzantine rite of the Italian ChurchAlbanian, brilliantly overcoming the discontent of the Latin bishops who had belonged to the Italian-Albanian parishes before 1919.
An ethical identity supported by its own literature, by its own language, the Albanian language, by an ancient tradition of human and Christian values, which has determined a precise spiritual and cultural location, jealously guarded over the centuries by the Italo-Albanians. Among the human values still stand out today:
– gjitonia, an urban and social structure of relations between the members of a neighbourhood, in which relationships are established between families and between individuals, regulated by an ancient code;
– the besa, the word given;
– the mikpritja, the value of hospitality;
– the vellamaja, the ritual of brotherhood.
All human, cultural, spiritual values that will have just crowning and realization, with the birth of the same Eparchy of Byzantine-Greek rite, Lungro.
The Greek College of Rome
As for the Greek monks of the fifteenth century, also for the Italo-Albanian priests of the following centuries the problem of cultural, theological and pastoral preparation arose. The words of Mons. Filoteto Zassi, Archbishop of Durrës and ordaining bishop in the Greek college of Rome, give an idea of the situation: “The ordained of the Italo-Greeks for the past have been mostly ignorant, and therefore ordered more out of compassion not to send them back after being taken from distant countries between a thousand strapazzi and expenses, that due to doctrine … mostly they came such, that I had that sweat and I and others not only weeks, but still months to get them to the first degree of ability”. To cope with this decline in the preparation of the Greek rite priests who had as teachers the sacristies and priests their predecessors, the Pope or XII, at the insistence of Felice Samuele Rodotà – who later became the first president – founds in San Benedetto Ullano the college “Corsini”, from the noble name of the Pope. In 1794 the college was transferred to San Demetrio Corone at the rich Abbey of Basilian monks. Soon the moral and intellectual formation of the young people who left that school gave esteem and fame to the institute, which formed the priests and lay professionals of the Albanian countries. Two years after the foundation of the Corsini College in Calabria, one was also founded in Sicily, in Palermo. In this way the future priests of the Albanian populations had the minor educational institutes in their own land, while in Rome the Greek College for Higher Studies had been operating since 1577.
Birth of the Community of Acquaformosa
In this context happened those events that led to the foundation of Acquaformosa. Due to the lack of reliable data, it is not possible to fix with certainty the year in which the Albanians left their homeland and once landed on the coast of the Kingdom of Naples, they settled permanently in the territories where they later founded their houses.
Even for the first events of the founders of Acquaformosa history has suffered the same fate. The first proof, which unequivocally attests to the presence of the Albanians in the territory of Acquaformosa, is the document “Capitulations of the Albanians of Acquaformosa with the Monastery of Santa Maria” preserved in the Vatican Archive in the Vatican Latin code n. 14.386 f 9 ss.
It was the year of the Lord 1501 when some Albanians led by Pellegrino Capparello, and the commendatory abbot of the Monastery of Santa Maria di Acquaformosa signed the charter of the new community and, at the same time, the source of the rules regulating relations between the Albanians and the monastery. So 1501 is the first certain date of the presence of the Albanians in the badial territory, but when they actually arrived in those lands is not known. Tajani and other historians trace the departure from their land of the Albanians, who then settled in Acquaformosa, between 1476 and 1478, is a probable but not certain date. No one dares a date regarding the arrival of the Albanians in the monastery territories. It is presumable that between the date of allocation and the “Capitulations” only the short time necessary for the monks to get to know the new guests and the Albanians to know the vulgar Italian language that was used in the drafting of the document.
Little is known about the Albanians who were the first inhabitants of Acquaformosa: indirectly it can be inferred that among them there was a priest. In fact belonged to the parish church of Acquaformosa 8 Greek codes that are now kept in the Monastery of Grottaferrata. These are liturgical books in use in the Matrix Church of Acquaformosa. Of these eight codes six have been copied in Italy, while the first two, says Mgr. Francesco Bugliari, is likely to have been copied in the East and, precisely in Epirus. From here brought to Italy by Albanian refugees.
Michael Zenempisa was the priest who officiated using those codes, both in Albania and later in Acquaformosa. During a pastoral visit Bishop Francesco Bugliari, noting these codes and also the rest of the Greek manuscript service in the parish church of Acquaformosa asked the then archpriest to transfer them all to the Greek College of San Demetrio Corone, considered more suitable for storing such antiquities. The clergy of Acquaformosa had no difficulty in adhering to this request. It was October 28, 1793. On the edge of a sheet of the codex, marked with number 272, we read: the Archpriest and the clergy of Acquaformosa give this and all the other choral books to the College.
In Acquaformosa the first place where the Albanians built their farmhouse was the place called “Arioso”. But the chosen place, which today marks the border between the territories of Acquaformosa and Altomonte, was soon abandoned; the Albanians moved and built their houses closer to the Monastery. Probably the first houses were built next to the first oratory of the Albanians of Acquaformosa, the Church of the Conception, built since the early 1500s.
The reasons that pushed the first inhabitants of Acquaformosa to move from Arioso are not certain, the hypotheses are two. The first justifies the displacement because of the numerous snakes that infested that area; the second justifies it for the difficulties of supplying the water. The move in all cases was sudden, since already in 1505 the Matrix Church of San Giovanni Battista was under construction in the place where it is still located. At first the urban aggregate of Acquaformosa was so small that it was not even considered a farmhouse of Altomonte. Only from the writings of the jurisconsult Giovanni Paolo Galterio, concerning the statutes of Altomonte of August 15, 1602, is the farmhouse of Acquaformosa named, along with those of Lungro and Firmo, as farmhouses of Altomonte.
The House of Galatro
The Albanians were not the first inhabitants of the territories adjacent to the monastery of Acquaformosa. According to the historian Zangari, near the Monastery of Santa Maria there was the “diruto casale di Galatro”, of which there are no doubtful testimonies in the registers of Carlo D’Angiò, of 1278, and of Carlo II d’Angiò of 1302.
In particular with the document of 1302, reported by Russo in the History of the Diocese of Cassano, whose original was destroyed, King Charles II of Anjou exempted the inhabitants of Galatro for a five-year period from the payment of taxes, who intended to return to live in that house, abandoned because of the war and due to the Cistercians of Acquaformosa.
The name of Acquaformosa predates the Albanian settlement. It is attributed to the monastery founded in 1195. This allows us to exclude that the name is derived from an exclamation that Irina Scanderbeg made when she drank from a spring near the Monastery. Verò is that that source still retains the name of “Source of the princess”. From the previous data it is noted that Irina lived in the sixteenth century, when the name of Acquaformosa already existed. It is likely that, changing the protagonists, the story that gives the name is the same: the goodness and purity of the waters that flowed here.
Settlements and Population
Until 1815 population censuses were not made for inhabitants, but for fires.
The term fire, both in the literary lexicon and in the legal one, indicated the family. Conventionally every fire, therefore every family, was considered to consist of 5 people. The inhabitants of Acquaformosa in 1501 were few.
The De Marchis among the documents of the first years of the settlement counted 22 names, but could not determine if all were heads of families, if this was so in 1501 the Casale di Ariosa had 22 fires.
The Royal Numerator on 1 April 1543 counted 43 fires, for an approximate number of inhabitants of 135 units. In 1595 the fires had increased by a little, they were counted only 45. In 1669 the fires were counted 102, for a number of inhabitants close to 510 units. In 1741 there were 105 fires, in 1797 there were 124, in 1806 there were 200 fires. In 1816 there were 1237 inhabitants, there were 1361 in 1846. With 1861 the first statistics of the kingdom of Italy begin. Acquaformosa on that date counted 1661 souls of which 835 males and 826 females. The 1901 census recorded 1562 residents and 4 non-residents, the inhabitants were 1812 in 1951, 1773 in 1967, 1379 in 1996.